Authors: Nancy Verde Barr
Table of Contents
Backstage with Julia
My Years With Julia Child
Nancy Verde Barr
Also by Nancy Verde Barr
We Called It Macaroni: An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking
In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs (with Julia Child)
Make It Italian: The Taste and Technique of Italian Home Cooking
Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
This book is printed on acid-free paper. â
Copyright Â© 2007 by Nancy Verde Barr. All rights reserved
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Published simultaneously in Canada
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Barr, Nancy Verde.
Backstage with Julia
: my years with Julia Child / Nancy Verde Barr.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-471-78737-2 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-470-27637-2 (paper)
ISBN 978-1-118-06016-2 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-118-06017-9 (ebook)
1. Child, Julia. 2. CooksâUnited StatesâBiography. 3. Barr, Nancy VerdeâFriends and associates. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Interior Design: Lee Goldstein
To the memory of Julia, without whom . . .
When I began to work for Julia, my friend Jane Andrews told me to keep a journal so I would have a record of the dates and events of that special time. If I had followed her advice, I would now have a chronological, detailed accounting of the twenty-four years I knew Julia. I didn't and I don't. But somewhere I read that life is not about the dates that mark the beginning and end of one's life or the events in it; it's about the dashes between the dates.
Those dashes are indelibly recorded in my mind. And for those that needed illumination, I am grateful to friends of Julia's and mine who supplied the light. Zanne Stewart, Judith Jones, Sally Jackson, Dagmar de Pins Sullivan, Jody Adams, John McJennet III, Russ and Marian Morash, Debbie Moxham, Nan McEvoy, Mary Higgins, Hope Hudner, Philip Barr, my sons, Brad and Andrew Barr, Merle Ellis, Ed Dudkowski, and Ira Yoffe all ignited memories of events that made us smile when they happened and then again, when we remembered them. I am particularly grateful to Susy Davidson, who went so far out of her way to supply me with information, whether it was from her memory or the massive stockpile of materials she saves. She is, as she always was to Julia, "that darling Susy." For information I needed, and didn't have, I thank Jennifer Esposito for spending time with me at the Schlesinger Library hunting through the many boxes that contain Julia's papers.
When my agent Jane Dystel suggested this project to me, I vacillated and procrastinated. What would I write about a woman who was a friend to so many people and known to legions of others? Jane and her partner, Miriam Goderich, showed me the story that only I could tell. To Julia, saying someone was a "true professional" was high praise indeed and Jane and Miriam are true professionals. I am proud to be among their client list. Still, the process of writing this book had its traumas, and through them all Jane was always there to make the rain go away. For that alone, I wish her a life that is never without licorice.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my brother, Tom Verde, an award winning print and radio journalist, who was there, as he always has been, to help me say what I wanted to say a whole lot better than I might say it. I am particularly appreciative for his help since he took time from his Master's work and the production of a new radio show to read what I wrote and remind me when he thought Charles Dickens was in possession of my computer.
Many authors thank friends who read their manuscripts and give them valuable feedback. Others don't and I suspect they are like me. We hover over our works unable to reveal them to anyone until the publisher demands we pass them in. Instead, we share with friends our angst over what we are or are not writing, and for their patience in listening to my frustrations, I am grateful to Nelson Doubleday, my stepdaughters Vicki Cooley and Lydia Bailey, Lydia's husband, Dave Pac, Rosie Connors, and Nicky Nickturn. For some generous reason, they still answer my phone calls.
I hope Christine DiComo, Editorial Program Coordinator at John Wiley & Sons, knows exactly how much I appreciate the careful attention she paid to coordinating my materials into a book. And, thank you Justin Schwartz, Senior Editor at Wiley, for your enthusiastic support of this book. It was just like receiving one of Julia's postcards stamped with stars and bravos all over again.
The telephone rang just before dawn on August 13, 2004. Without opening my eyes, I rolled over and groped for the receiver. Tucking it under my chin, eyes still closed, I rolled back over and mumbled a sleepy "Hello."
More asleep than awake, I didn't recognize the voice. "Yes."
"It's Stephanie," was all Julia's longtime assistant said before pausing to let the early hour of the call register with me. She was in California. It was the middle of the night for her. I knew why she was calling.
"Oh, Stephanie," I said with resigned sadness but no exclamation of shock. Julia had not been well; it had been expected. "When?"
"A short time ago."
Stephanie told me that Julia had simply said it was enough and declined to go to the hospital yet once more; she passed away at home with her family and her kitten, Minou, by her side. It was two days shy of what would have been her ninety-second birthday. According to her wishes, there would be no funeral. I hung up the phone and allowed the tears to flow.
They flowed for the loss of a friend who had been part of my life for over two decades. Yet they were also tears of empathy. In that moment, I finally understood a feeling Julia had expressed ten years earlier when her husband, Paul, died. Her extreme sorrow at his loss was palpable and understandable, but when she wept to me, "It's the end of an era," I didn't fully understand, couldn't quite grasp her feeling. On August 13, as I lay there quietly weeping, I understood.
An eraâa signal, definitive stage of history; a definable period in which a new order of things prevails; a special time. For Julia, Paul marked the beginning of her culinary awakening. Until they married, when she was thirty-four years old, she hadn't cooked at all, and she admitted that as a new wife her culinary attempts were mostly disasters that seldom made it to the table even close to a reasonable dinner hour. It was Paul who introduced her to French cuisine while they were living in Europe, and he did it with the knowledge and zeal of a man who was himself a connoisseur. She enrolled at the famous Paris Cordon Bleu cooking school in 1949, taking the first step that led to her long and equally famous culinary career. Paul walked with her every step of the path, accompanying her with enthusiasm, support, and devotion. Julia viewed her culinary birth and the course it took as the era of Paul and Julia.
For many of us, Julia was our culinary awakening. Our kitchen timers all started buzzing at once in 1963 when, at fifty years old, she debuted on public television with her show
The French Chef
and roused us first with the sound of her voice and odd galumphing about. Then she shook us awake and seduced us into her world with food that looked beyond delicious, even on black-and-white television and with names hard to pronounce. Were the recipes time-consuming and tedious to make? Were the ingredients hard to find? Who cared? Look at the fun she was having with it.
With eyes wide open, we went to great lengths to participate in the new order of her culinary world. We knocked down house walls and expanded our kitchens to accommodate monster-sized restaurant ranges and spacious Sub-Zero refrigerators with price tags that were startling. We purchased oversized sautÃ© pans, fish poachers, stockpots, porcelain soufflÃ© dishes with unglazed bottoms, and a
of small kitchen tools that we had never before seen or even knew existed. No longer was the one drawer that held a metal spatula, a handheld eggbeater, and a few mismatched knives enough. We needed room for a bench scraper, a bulb baster, several sizes of whisks, rubber spatulas, and flat-sided wooden spoons, as well as a place for a large set of well-honed knives. Kitchen counter space had to be generous enough to hold a K5A stand mixer, a food processor, and, for the truly passionate, a duck press. We stocked our refrigerators with "exotic" leeks, rare cuts of rare animals, and a very small glass jar that held two imported black truffles. Not only did the look of the home kitchen change, but so did its denizens. Once the domain solely of the housewife, it suddenly became a hobby center for men who embraced Julia's culinary world. At the same time, the previously male-dominated sanctum of the restaurant kitchen became the workplace for women chefs.